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Vernon Downs to begin racing on Friday, “optimistic” about tax relief

Vernon Downs logoVERNON, N.Y. — Vernon Downs announced will begin its 64th harness-racing season this Friday, May 5 after its owner said he had a “productive” meeting on tax-relief concerns in Albany on April 26.

Jeff Gural, chairman of American Racing and Entertainment, on April 13 postponed the original April 21 opening night. In doing so, Gural said he was seeking tax relief from New York State, citing “significant financial losses due to the added competition” from nearby casinos.

“We were extremely disappointed to postpone the opening day of racing at Vernon Downs; however, we feel very optimistic that necessary tax relief will come our way,” Gural said in a news release.


In announcing the new opening night, Gural indicated that he recognizes “the hardship placed on the horsemen” from shelving racing for a while.

The competing casinos that have table games include the Oneida Indian Nation’s Yellow Brick Road Casino in Chittenango; del Lago Resort Casino in the town of Tyre in Seneca County; and Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady. They’ve “taken revenue away,” Gural contended, in his original April 13 postponement announcement. He noted that Vernon Downs is “losing on average about $150,000 per month since November.”


Albany meeting

Gural on April 26 met with state officials, including New York State Senator Joseph Griffo (D–Rome), Vernon Downs said. In addition, he met with Jamie Rubin, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s director of state operations, on April 27. Rubin also “seemed to understand the issues and the importance” to the community of keeping Vernon Downs open, Vernon Downs said.

Gural indicated that the tax relief he’s requesting from New York is “necessary and would still allow” Vernon Downs to continue employing about 300 local workers, preserve horse-racing jobs, and still allow about $10 million in tax revenue to go to education.

Since reopening Vernon as a racino in 2006, the company has paid close to $150 million in taxes to New York for education, yet Vernon Downs has the “highest” tax rate of its competitors, the business contends.

Vernon Downs officials say the racino is “hopeful” that local officials will “continue to weigh in and convince” the state legislature to “act quickly to help save the hundreds of jobs currently at risk at Vernon Downs.”

The horsemen have also agreed to support legislation that would lower the tax rate that would enable the racetrack to have a “solid long term future.”

Besides Griffo, the April 26 meeting also included New York State Senator John Bonacic, chair of the Senate Racing Gaming and Wagering Committee; New York State Assemblyman J Gary Pretlow, chair of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee; and Beth Garvey, counsel to the Senate Republicans.


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